Many therapists feel very nervous with the idea of engaging in social media.
This is understandable because an awareness of ethical issues is drilled into us from the beginning in our training and supervision.
You may be feeling quite apprehensive about how to navigate the various social media networks. You want to do it in a way that won’t compromise your clinical work or have you end up in tricky ethical dilemmas like a dual relationship.
Why should counsellors use social media at all?
Unfortunately many myths have perpetuated about social media, which are just not true. This makes counsellors fearful. As a response to fear, they end up avoiding it instead of educating themselves about how to use social media effectively and the benefits.
Social media has numerous benefits, including:
- you can quickly and easily broadcast your messages to large groups of people that are interested in what you have to say
- it allows you to build relationships with prospective clients and your ‘second client’ (see part 2 for an explanation of this)
- you can build your counselling brand, so that people associate you with a niche and a message that you communicate clearly
- you can utilise the power of viral marketing- meaning many people can be exposed to your business from viral sharing of your content
- you establish yourself as an expert in your niche by curating and sharing valuable content that your community finds helpful
The reality is social media is not going away. If anything, I see it increasing in its reach and power to influence people, the choices they make and the services they use.
You can use social media safely without compromising your ethics
So let’s come back to this perpetual issue that many counsellors have, which is they think that you can’t adhere to your ethical code while engaging in social media.
This is just not true.
Sure, if you just jump in and start using Facebook, Twitter or one of the other social networks without any regard, it’s quite likely you could find yourself in a difficult situation.
The best ways to safeguard yourself against this includes:
- educating yourself about each social network you are contemplating using and how it works
- understanding the privacy settings of each social network so you can filter who sees what
- developing a social media policy that your current and new clients sign off on that makes it clear how to engage with you online
- regularly reviewing how your social media strategy is working and any problems or potential problems that are arising
I often recommend to counsellors to start with just one social network as a beginning and learn everything you can about how it works and the culture of that network.
That way, you can educate yourself about the benefits and possible pitfalls to avoid any potential ethical issues.
I admit it. I was really nervous when I started out in social media.
Probably like you, I had lots of concerns about the ethical implications of using social media. I wondered what would my clients and peers would think.
Quite a few years on, I can see those fears are completely unfounded and the benefits of being on social media far outweigh the ethical risks involved.
There are a few things that I have done to help me make sure I use social media in an ethical way:
- I use a social media policy that I adapted from Dr Keely Kolmes, a San Francisco psychologist who specialises in online ethical issues for therapists. All my clients read it and agree to it in the first session. I’m yet to have any ethical issues arise with clients and feel this is an important part of protecting myself.
- Whenever I engage on social media I use ‘the coffee shop test’. The coffee shop test means I always ask myself before I post a comment ‘would I be OK with a client or a peer overhearing this conversation in a coffee shop?’ If the answer is yes, I go ahead and post it. If the answer is no, I look at what needs to change.
- Following on from point #2, I only use social media that is in the public forum (meaning anyone in the public can see the post) for professional purposes. Any conversations I have in a public setting are only related to my professional activities and I leave any personal details of my life for my personal Facebook page, which has the highest privacy settings.
Following these general guidelines has been enormously helpful in helping me ethically navigate social media.
Now many therapists ask ‘can you get clients from social media?’
I’m not convinced that social media gets you clients directly, however that’s not a reason to abandon it as a legitimate marketing strategy.
I believe social media has many indirect benefits that can lead to you getting more client inquiries and growing your business.
One of the most powerful outcomes from being involved in social media is it helps you grow your personal brand.
Whether you like it or not, if you’re a counsellor who works in private practice, you have a brand, and that brand is you.
Your brand is what people think about when they connect with you online. It’s what your marketing messages are communicating about what type of counsellor you are and how you approach working with people.
In a way, you can’t escape that your counselling business has a brand- even if it’s a very personal brand.
And the great thing about social media is you have a lot of control about how you portray your brand to the public and other professionals.
While this conversation is only a beginning, I’m hoping it’s giving you ‘food for thought’ and that you’re becoming open to the possibility of exploring social media for your counselling business and how it can help you and your business goals.
I’d love to know what you think about this.